After a spate of inspired crossover efforts from the Charleston Symphony, last Saturday’s challenging Masterworks program at the Gaillard reminded me why the musical fire in my belly still burns brightest for the classics.
For openers, we heard the rousing march that just about any academic graduate from kindergarten onwards knows as Pomp and Circumstance. It’s actually the first of Edward Elgar’s series of five pieces bearing the same title — and they all reek of Victorian-era glory.
Familiar though the main theme may be, it was a rare treat to hear the whole thing live, from a big, juicy-sounding orchestra. Maestro David Stahl deftly brought out its oh-so-English sense of ceremony and the piece’s lilting sunny side.
They don’t call Frederic Chopin “the Poet of the Piano” for nothing. Even at the age of 19, he could spin out intoxicating skeins of keyboard magic — as in his two piano concertos. We were treated to the second of them — in F minor — courtesy of featured soloist Marina Lomazov: a remarkable Ukrainian pianist who teaches at the University of South Carolina.
The lady’s got stage presence to burn. Tall and willowy, she commands the keyboard like an elegant athlete. And her playing matched her physique, with the robust yet nakedly emotional Russian-school idiom she grew up with.
Despite a few missed high-end notes, she made child’s play of Chopin’s relentless technical demands. The high point for me was her tender traversal of the songful slow movement. Stahl and his musicians tuned in to her languorous, intuitive phrasing with miraculous results.
But the second half belonged entirely to our hometown band and the maestro who led them. Nicely reinforced (as usual this season) by supplemental musicians, they sounded both lush and confident in Richard Strauss overtly erotic “Dance of the Seven Veils” from his operatic horror-story, Salome.
Stahl’s frisky (and risky) up-front tempos guaranteed an exciting ride, and his musicians squeezed every last titillating drop of burlesque sensuality from the complex score. Mark Gainer’s seductive oboe earned him a solo bow.
Even more demanding was the final number: Maurice Ravel’s second suite from Daphnis and Chloe. Ravel made nearly impossible demands of his musicians — and it takes a virtuoso orchestra to cope with them. From the lush sonic bloom of the opening “sunrise,” our assured players delivered this masterpiece of otherworldly tone-painting with astonishing skill and vivid color. Flute sorceress Jessica Hull-Dambaugh got two solo bows.
May the citizens of our fair city never forget their profound good fortune to call such an accomplished orchestra our own. —Lindsay Koob